Leadership (Issue 413)

In which we discuss a difference between "consultants" and "needs satisfiers." I was sharing stories with another business owner this week, discussing succession planning. At one point he said, "I hired a guy, thinking he would develop into someone who could eventually lead the firm."

“After a few years, it became evident to me that I’d been wrong, that he wouldn’t be that leader, and that I needed to move him out to make way for others. When I discussed this with him, and told him that I’d been hoping that he would step up to lead, he replied, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

If you don’t own a company, I’m betting you think, “The owner should have told him. That’s not fair.”

If you are or have been a business owner, I’m betting you think, “Good decision. The guy was an order taker with no vision or drive of his own. If he had really wanted to lead, he’d have brought ideas and led the action without being asked or told.”‘

In sales, one of the differences between “order takers” and “consultants” is that order takers are a little like the guy who said, “Why didn’t you tell me?” They tend to be needs satisfiers. They either wait for their customers to identify their own needs and ask for help or they ask questions, draw out needs, and sell products that fit those needs. They are “product fitters.” Their clients’ needs and their own products define boundaries within which they work:

Good consultants lead. They tend to have a vision or point of view about important client issues and challenges. They have developed opinions about what works and what doesn’t. They bring new ideas, best practices, and alternatives that move the action forward.

For example, Clarity’s “Talking Business with Small Business” program, targeted to commercial bank staff who call on small businesses, helps participants develop a point of view about small business cash flow and appropriate use of cash management and loan products.

The impact of this can be immediate and significant. A recent program participant, whose customer came in to ask for a larger line of credit, wrote, “It was amazing to know what to look for. I could see [my customer] needs to refinance her existing line of credit balance long term while keeping a smaller line of credit for purchases during the slower periods. What a difference a day makes!”

The week before, she would have taken the order and sold her customer the larger line of credit. The week after, she used her point of view about appropriate loan usage to educate and lead her customer to a different alternative.

Having a point of view does not mean “don’t ask questions” or “don’t sell products.” Both are important. It means bringing (in addition) insights, opinions, and methodology that help business owners gain perspective and develop strategies to achieve their visions. That creates “value” for a business owner. That shows leadership.

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